BYU and the Honor Code

March 7, 2011

I’m a little late to the party, but I couldn’t resist writing about the dismissal of forward Brandon Davies from the BYU basketball team. At first, I was a little annoyed by the dismissal, mostly because I just took Doug Gottlieb to task for not respecting BYU the day prior. But mostly I didn’t really care. BYU is a private, religious university and they can do whatever they want.

Then the media started talking.

Literally every single sports writer took the same stance. I’m sure every single one of them thought they were being profound. I can some up analysts’ reaction with one long sentence (picture me talking like Jim Rome, if that helps):

“BYU has a strict moral code that I could never follow, but the university leaders deserve to be applauded because they stuck to their principles even though they essentially destroyed their Final Four chances; although it seems unfair to young Davies, he knew what he was getting into because he signed the honor code.”

Why can’t we just be neutral on anything? Why do writers insist on writing lazy articles like that? That is such an easy angle to take. It’s ironic that sports writers of all people continuously pump out opinions where they downplay the importance of the very thing they are paid to cover. Not that I don’t agree with that sentiment, it’s just that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can simultaneously say religious principles are more important and say that BYU was wrong. I’m about to do that very thing.

Again I don’t really care about BYU’s decision. They are a private, religious university and can do whatever they want. I have no opinions on moral codes. In fact, I’m kinda knocking on the door of the BYU moral code myself. I’m now married, I’m honest, I shave daily and dress nicely, and I have been away from warehouse labor long enough to not curse. If I could give up beer and coffee, I’m there. So no, I don’t think it’s an issue of the honor code itself. Yes, the code is strict, especially for college students, but it’s not that strict.

BYU officials obviously thought the same way. They found a violation of the honor code and acted in the manner they deemed correct. End of story, right? Of course not – that would be way too short of a blog post. Instead the talking heads have to force an opinion where one doesn’t belong, I get annoyed, and you get to read the result. I have problems with two of the media’s statements:

1. That Brandon Davies knew what he was signing up for, so the punishment is okay; and
2. That BYU deserves to be applauded for giving up athletic success to stand by their principles.

Let’s start with Davies. Since when is signing a code/contract a black or white issue? If that’s the case, these writers have just put an awful lot of attorneys out of business. I couldn’t find how old Davies was when he signed with the Cougars, but I would guess that he was younger than 18. If the honor code was a contract, it wouldn’t even be valid because it was signed by a minor. Common law protects minors from business contracts because they are assumed not to have the mind to make difficult financial decisions…and yet somehow Davies “knew what he signed up for” when he agreed to a life of no sex or alcohol as a high school senior? Please.

Yet even if we assume that Davies was a fully informed adult who made a rational decision to sign the moral code, we still can’t say he knew what he signed up for. Check out these comments from an anonymous BYU basketball player. The player makes the point that BYU students certainly make a better effort than other college students to live a virtuous life, but they still occasionally have sex, drink, and smoke marijuana. I obviously have no personal experience with BYU’s campus, so I don’t know if that is true. As a former college student, I assume there is some grain of truth to it. On top of that, Jim McMahon went to the university. I don’t think any of us non-BYU athletes are in any position to claim that a young kid can fully appreciate the code with those statements floating out there.

I looked up the BYU honor code. It says everything that it is supposed to say, but potential punishments are unclear, to say the least. The only statement in the honor code is that punishment can go up to expulsion from the university. That fits in with the anonymous player’s statement that the honor code hangs over every BYU student’s head, no one knows where the honor code office is, and punishments are all over the place depending on the violation. The player also writes that the investigation process takes upwards of a month. Again, that fits in with the lengthy appeal process described on the BYU website.

All this also fits in with the fact that Davies self-reported the incident. Are we really to believe that Davies would have self-reported his premarital sex if it would a) get him kicked off his team the very next day; and b) turn him from a decent college basketball center into a nationally known name for reasons that he wants nothing to do with? I doubt it. Really, his actions show that he didn’t know what he signed up for, rather than the opposite. He knew he wasn’t supposed to have premarital sex and felt bad about it…but there is no way he understood the ramifications from the university.

Then there’s the second refrain – that BYU deserves to be applauded for forsaking athletic accomplishments for their own values. This drives me crazy. We aren’t talking Nebraska football, Duke basketball, or even Notre Dame anything. This is BYU. It is a national university in which religion comes first and athletics second.

This is a university that walked away from the Mountain West Conference because it wanted to show more of its sports on BYUtv, the university’s own nationally televised network. Here’s a quote directly from the network’s website: “Through acquiring, creating and producing new values-based content, BYUtv has become a powerful tool for sharing enriching and educational entertainment rooted in values and faith.” The university uses athletics on BYUtv to push its faith-based message. It isn’t the other way around. Perhaps more than any Division I university other than perhaps the military academies, athletics takes a back seat.

Still, that didn’t stop journalists from piping up. Jim Rome went so far as to say, “[c]redit to (BYU) for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could’ve made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament….” Come on Jim. BYU is no Butler. I couldn’t find a legitimate source that has BYU’s endowment; the closest I found was this post that put the number at $589 million. It came from a Cougar message board and wasn’t rebutted, so I’ll assume that’s something close to the truth. That is a pretty good chunk of money for a potential “Cinderella” like BYU. For comparison, Butler, last year’s NCAA runner-up, has a $113 million endowment. Sure, the supposed extra millions would be nice, but I think BYU is going to pull through this one, at least financially.

Money aside, here’s my real problem with that statement: BYU stands to gain far more from this episode than they would with a Final Four run. They are receiving coverage that they would never receive if they made a deep NCAA Tournament run for doing the so-called noble thing. And lest we forget that BYU is still a pretty good basketball team. Although they are now Final Four longshots, they are a safe bet to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. That means a solid week of coverage or Jimmer-mania and more of the proverbial “doing things the right way” talk.

BYU has no parallels in Division I athletics. The closest would be Notre Dame, but even that really isn’t a good comparison. 98% of BYU’s 32,955 students are Mormons. At least 95% of BYU’s faculty are Mormons. The university has earned the nickname “America’s Favorite School” because its graduates rank it higher than the graduates of any other university. 78% of accepted students attend the university – even more than Harvard. By contrast, only 80% of the 11,700 Notre Dame students and 52% of faculty are Catholics. So it’s not like BYU is really hurting their reputation here. Very, very few potential BYU students will not attend the university after this situation. Fans of their basketball team will be upset, but they won’t go anywhere. If anything, the university is pandering to their own base and are getting even more press about their values and faith than they ever would with a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Maybe I am being too cynical. That wouldn’t be the first time that happened. On one hand, in a vacuum, it certainly is laudable that an administration put their mission above athletics. But I have a hard time applauding a university who actually benefited from doing the laudable thing. They are the only Division I team that makes no secret of the fact that athletics aren’t anywhere close to the top of their priority list. Their mission received all kinds of news coverage at almost no cost, financial or otherwise. So how can we really applaud their actions? If the administration did the right thing and it hurt them, go ahead and give them a round of applause. But in this case, they did the right thing and stand to benefit in the long run. I’m just not all that impressed by that.

It seems to me if they really cared about the kid, they would have worked with him through this issue instead of publicly embarrassing him in front of a national audience just one day after he came to the administrators to self-report his violation. I keep hearing all this stuff about this helping him learn his lesson. I call BS. He isn’t good enough to be an NBA player, so for the rest of his life he will be that kid who got kicked off the BYU team for having sex. What lesson are they trying to teach him? Maybe I’m way off base, but with all that I just wrote, it certainly seems like the BYU administration is not all that concerned with the honor code per se. It seems much more like a bunch of opportunists at the expense of one basketball player who messed up and tried work with the administrators to right his wrongs.

See sports writers? You can make an argument against the BYU administration without getting into religious beliefs. Not that I necessarily disagree with BYU’s decision, all things considered…but what a concept!

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New Years Day Bowl Previews

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year’s Day to everyone! A fairly exciting slate of games (finally!) highlighted by the TCU/Wisconsin Rose Bowl matchup later this afternoon. Here are my predictions:

Ticket City Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern

My picks: Northwestern +8, Over 62, Texas Tech 21 confidence points

In the day’s first game, 7-5 Northwestern, missing their starting quarterback Dan Persa, takes on 7-5 Texas Tech, which underachieved all year. No wonder the game ended up on ESPNU. Texas Tech is a heavy favorite in this game, almost entirely because the Wildcats’ Persa is out, but I’m not buying into that for two reasons: 1. backup freshman QB Evan Watkins isn’t terrible; and 2. the Big 12 has really turned their bowl season into a fiasco. Watkins is no Persa, but he’s just not bad enough to make two otherwise evenly matched teams that different. Big 12 teams are now 1-4 in bowl games – Oklahoma State is the only team that has bothered to show up. I’ll take Texas Tech to win, but just barely: TTU 38-35.

Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

My picks: Michigan State +9, Michigan State 1 confidence point

In keeping with my new motivation theory, I’ll stick with Michigan State here. I’m just not all that impressed with this Alabama team – only 5-3 against bowl teams, and of the top four teams they faced (Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn), they only beat Arkansas. Plus, I can’t imagine how Alabama gets up for this game after being ranked #1 for the first six weeks of the season and blowing a 24-point lead against Auburn in the last game of the season to cost them a berth in the Sugar Bowl. And lest we forget what happened last time Alabama came into a bowl game unmotivated as a heavy favorite – Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and never looked back in pulling the biggest upset so far by a non-BCS team in a BCS game.

Meanwhile, I think the Spartans are underrated. Style points are certainly not their forte, but they get the job done: 6-1 against bowl teams this season. With the exception of Utah, no team that has been in the top ten this year has been doubted as much as the Spartans. I think they play with something to prove and pull the upset. Sparty 21-17.

Capital One Bowl: Florida vs. Penn State

My picks: Florida 25 confidence points

This would have been a fantastic matchup ten years ago. Now we have powerhouse Florida on a down year and Penn State, which seems to make a New Years Day Bowl every year despite having at least three losses.* My first instinct was that Florida would dominate in Urban Meyer’s last game. Upon further reflection, I’m not so sure. It feels to me like he’s sort of abandoning them.** I think the Gators come out motivated, but not as much as people think. That and the Gators’ offense shouldn’t be favored by seven over anybody. I think Florida slips by a not-very-good PSU team 21-17.

* Nittany Lion fans have to have a weird relationship with Joe Paterno. Having a coach with that reputation is both good and bad. Bad because he clearly can’t perform as well as he used to, and the Nittany Lions haven’t been a legitimate national title contender for years. Good because, with this recognition, no matter how rough of a season PSU has, they get a better bowl game simply because of JoePa’s name recognition. Weird situation; of course no PSU fan can really utter these words, lest God strike them down.

** Anyone else hoping that Urban Meyer becomes the Brett Favre of coaching retirements? I sure hope a couple USC players fly to Gainesville at some point next season begging Meyer to come out of retirement and save them from Lane Kiffin.

Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Michigan

My picks: MSU -4, MSU 31

Michigan is the most overrated team in college football this year. How do I know this? They are 0-8 against the spread in their last eight games. That’s staggering. Denard Robinson has two good games to start the season that the public seems to remember and it turns into an early Christmas present for degenerate gamblers everywhere. Mississippi State finished 8-4, but their four losses were to top ten teams Auburn (by three), LSU, Arkansas (in two overtimes), and Alabama. The fact that the Bulldogs are way better than people think and Michigan is way worse makes this an easy play. ┬áMSU wins 31-10.

Rose Bowl: TCU vs. Wisconsin

My pick: TCU 16 confidence points

The most intriguing game of New Year’s Day by far. No one knows what’s going to happen this game. That doesn’t stop everyone from having an opinion on it. Afterwards, half of the people will get to say “I told you so” while the other half will have to shrug and agree. But that’s going to be 20/20 hindsight – everyone is just guessing. I could make arguments for either side:

Why TCU will win: unlike other non-BCS teams, this team is really fast; they are a non-BCS team in conference name only; Andy Dalton is a big-game quarterback and would have been invited to the Heisman ceremony if Kellen Moore didn’t exist; Wisconsin hasn’t faced a defense this good yet

Why Wisconsin will win: TCU hasn’t seen anything like the speed and raw power of the Badgers’ offensive line and rushing attack; the Badgers are peaking now while TCU peaked a little too early in the season; even if TCU plays tight in the first half, the Badgers will gradually wear the Horned Frogs down with superior depth

I buy a little bit of both arguments, so I’m not going to pretend I know any more about this game than anyone else. I’m going to go with TCU in this game because I think Wisconsin’s offense is a bit overrated because Bert Bielema is a bully that runs up the score. Before the Badgers put up the PlayStation-like scores of 83-20, 48-28, and 70-23 to close the season, I don’t remember anyone talking about how amazing the rushing attack was. Good yes, but great no. And that makes sense, because even after rushing for 1,024 team yards in their last three games, they finished only 12th in the NCAA with 247.3 yards per game. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that TCU’s rushing defense is infinitely better than anything Indiana, Michigan, or Northwestern provides. TCU pulls out the victory 24-21.

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut

My picks: Connecticut +15, Oklahoma 33 confidence points

Another motivation pick. Connecticut has heard a solid month of analysts saying they don’t deserve to be there. Oklahoma has heard the same thing. Sure, it’s a BCS game, but I don’t think that inspires the Sooners as much as it would other teams. After being in a BCS bowl six of the last eight years, I think Oklahoma will have a “been there, done that” attitude and will be a little bummed about playing in the worst of the BCS games. And as we’ve seen, the Big 12 kinda sucks.

Of course with all that said, motivation can only take a team so far against a far more talented team. Oklahoma wins, but doesn’t cover, 35-21.